Auburn Airing It Out

FAYETTEVILLE -- First-year offensive coordinator Al Borges couldn't believe how fast Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell picked up the new wrinkles during spring practices.

"It was as fast as anybody I've ever had the pleasure of coaching," said Borges, who also introduced his West Coast-style offense to Boise State, Oregon, UCLA, California and Indiana in the last decade.

Quarterbacks who learn fast have fared well in the system. Under Borges, UCLA's Cade McNown became a Heisman Trophy finalist and a first-round NFL pick by leading the nation in passing efficiency. The Hoosiers broke the school record for passing yards in a single season and, when Borges was at Oregon, Tony Grazziani led the Pac-10 in passing yardage and total offense.

The No. 4 Tigers' revamped offense is lots more balanced than in recent years and is centered around Campbell. Because of revolving coordinators, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound senior has had to learn a different scheme every season, something Borges credits for making last spring's transition go smoother than he imagined.

"He's had the advantage of playing for four different coordinators, or disadvantage, however you want to look at it," Borges said. "But from my perspective, it's an advantage because he's been exposed to a lot of football. The disadvantage is that he hasn't had his feet grounded in one system.

"That has probably hurt him in prior years, but I think his exposure has probably helped us."

It has as the traditionally ground-oriented Tigers (6-0, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference) are airing it out much more frequently heading into Saturday's home game against Arkansas (3-2, 1-1). Their 237.2 passing yards per game is the fourth-highest of any Auburn team and the most since the 1995 Tigers passed for an average of 262.8 yards.

"I think this year it's been just taking chances down the field and giving people the opportunity to make plays," Campbell said. "I think it's about getting a lot of practice and a lot of reps -the repetitions of throwing the ball down the field and giving our receivers the opportunity to make plays."

Borges said Campbell's dedication to film study and concentration in practices has been huge in making the offense click. It also helps that Campbell has been making the proper checks before snaps.

"He demonstrates the poise of how to win games week-in and week-out," Borges said. "He is very, very composed. He (calls audibles) more in certain games than in others, depending on how much we are doing in that game, how much we're working on alternative plays or changing plays.

"He may do it 50 times a game or he may do it five."

Campbell, Auburn's all-time leader in pass completion percentage, has connected on 64.1 percent of his passes this season. He already has thrown for more than 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. He had 10 touchdowns with 8 interceptions in 13 games in 2003.

The difference isn't just the change in scheme. Campbell said the improvement of receivers Courtney Taylor (team-leading 14 catches for 274 yards), Ben Obomanu (13 for 188) and Anthony Mix (11 for 115) have made a noticeable difference.

Obomanu, a 6-1, 193-pound junior who leads the team with five receiving touchdowns, was in top form in last week's 52-7 win against Louisiana Tech when he had three catches for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"He did a great job concentrating last game," Campbell said. "A couple of those passes should have been intercepted, but he kept his focus and the ball ended up in the right hands. He is one of those guys you can also depend on."

Taylor has been the most dependable and Campbell said the 6-2, 195-pounder has grown into a serious threat.

"He has matured a lot this season," Campbell said. "If you get the ball anywhere around him, he will catch the ball. That gives you confidence."

The Tigers still keep the running backs involved (Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown are averaging nearly 200 rushing yards combined). Matter of fact, Brown is the team's second-leading receiver with 14 receptions, mostly on screen plays when he's matched against a linebacker.

"I think I've been OK with catching the ball," said Brown, a 6-1, 232-pound bruiser. "In the past, we really didn't do it as much with the back coming out of the backfield, but I've had to work on it a little bit this season because we're doing it a little bit more. So we've been able to make those plays."

Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack wasted only about two minutes watching film of last year's Auburn team because this year's is so much different, especially the number of players in motion before the snap.

"It's not like Auburn," Wommack said. "Last year, it was line up and stop those two backs because they're going to run at you every time. This year, it's mix and match. They're a lot more difficult to get ready for because of all the differences."

Campbell's different, too.

"He's not getting pressured as much as he was last year and he's much more comfortable, "Wommack said. "He's better. To me, his problem in the past was, when people got pressure on him, he kind of would get out of his comfort zone. But I haven't seen him out of it this year.

"He's a lot better."

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